What Is Apartheid

Apartheid was a system of racial segregation and discrimination that was enforced in South Africa between 1948 and 1994. This article will delve into the history, impact, and eventual dismantling of apartheid, shedding light on the various aspects of this dark chapter in South Africa’s past.

The Origins of Apartheid

Apartheid, ultimately derived from the Afrikaans word meaning “apartness,” was rooted in the colonial era and the subsequent formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910. The National Party, which came to power in 1948, cemented apartheid as official government policy with the enactment of a series of laws that codified racial segregation.

The Pillars of Apartheid

Apartheid was built upon a framework of laws that enforced racial segregation and discrimination. The Population Registration Act of 1950 classified South Africans into four racial groups: White, Colored, Indian, and Black. Each group was subject to different legal rights and privileges, with Whites enjoying superior status and opportunities.

The Group Areas Act of 1950 implemented the physical segregation of races, establishing separate residential areas (townships) for each racial group. The act forcibly relocated millions of Black South Africans from their homes into designated areas, disrupting communities and causing immense suffering.

Under apartheid, public amenities such as schools, hospitals, and beaches were segregated based on race. Non-Whites were subjected to inferior facilities and limited opportunities for education and economic advancement. The Bantu Education Act of 1953 further entrenched this inequality by providing substandard education for Black South Africans, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and limited opportunities.

Resistance and Repression

The apartheid regime faced significant resistance from various sectors of South African society. The African National Congress (ANC), founded in 1912, became a prominent voice against white minority rule. The ANC and its leaders, including Nelson Mandela, fought to dismantle apartheid through non-violent protests, strikes, and boycotts.

What Is Apartheid

The apartheid government responded with harsh repression. Organizations such as the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) were banned, and activists were often detained without trial or placed under house arrest. The regime employed a brutal security apparatus to suppress dissent, utilizing tactics such as torture and assassination.

International Pressure and Isolation

Apartheid drew increasing international condemnation as its oppressive nature became widely known. The United Nations implemented sanctions against South Africa, placing economic pressure on the government and isolating it diplomatically.

Countries across the world, including the United States, imposed trade restrictions and divested from companies operating in South Africa. Cultural and sports boycotts also played a significant role in raising awareness and pressuring the apartheid regime to change its policies.

The End of Apartheid

The apartheid system began to crumble in the 1980s due to both internal and external pressures. Nationwide protests, labor strikes, and acts of civil disobedience intensified, challenging the status quo and demanding equal rights.

Internationally, support for the anti-apartheid movement grew, leading to a shift in attitudes and diplomatic relations. Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid leaders were released from prison in 1990, signaling a new era of negotiations and reconciliation.

In 1994, South Africa held its first non-racial democratic elections, with Mandela becoming the country’s first Black president. The official dismantling of apartheid and the peaceful transition to a democratic government marked a significant turning point in South Africa’s history.

Legacy of Apartheid

The legacy of apartheid continues to impact South Africa today. While progress has been made towards economic and political equality, deep social and economic disparities persist. Poverty, unemployment, and inadequate access to basic services disproportionately affect marginalized communities.

Efforts to address historical injustices and promote reconciliation have taken place through initiatives such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. However, the healing process is ongoing, and the scars of apartheid still resonate within South African society.


Apartheid was a system of racial segregation and discrimination that shaped the course of South African history for almost five decades. Its impact on individuals, communities, and the nation as a whole cannot be understated. Understanding this dark chapter is crucial for acknowledging the progress made, while also recognizing the work that still needs to be done to achieve full equality and justice in South Africa.